Summer Astrophotography – A Passion Project

I love being a science communicator, being with people and sharing my knowledge of the universe. However, I have a personal fascination with the universe, and although this helps me learn more and ultimately makes me a better communicator, there is something nice about connecting with the stars in a traditional way, ie with a telescope. Every year, usually in Summer (a short season in Canada), I venture to a dark sky location and get in some observing, to remind me of the real universe that’s out there. Since I also love the visualization of space as a communication tool,...

Using Stellarium to Find Comet NEOWISE

It’s an amazing time to look up to the night sky! For the first time in nearly 6700 years, comet C/2020 F3 NEOWISE has made it’s return to the inner solar system. These small, icy, dirty clumps remain dim and dark through over 90% of their journey from the distant reaches of the Solar System, but once they close in on the immense heat of our nearest star, things change. Comet C/2020 F3 NEOWISE captured by the Parker Solar Probe as it swings around the Sun. Credits: NASA/Johns Hopkins APL/Naval Research Lab/Parker Solar Probe/Brendan Gallagher The ice melts, pockets of...

One Planet Hunter to Another

It wasn’t long after the discovery of exo-solar planets that scientists sent up spacecraft to look for them.  The Kepler Space Telescope (KST) was NASA’s first planet finder, which has been exceeding expectations since 2009.  It likely won’t get to continue on that road, as it is nearing the end of it’s life.  At the same time, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) is just starting to open it’s eyes.  Today we say goodbye to one great planet hunter and hello to another.   KST is part of NASA’s early 2000s spacecraft approvals that saw relatively inexpensive missions pushed forward...

Pluto Planet Problem

I’m going to come right out and ask the burning question: Is Pluto a Planet? No. At least under the current definition.  So the question becomes “Should Pluto be a planet?”  That answer is a bit more complicated.  Let’s look at the history.   Discovered by Clyde Tombaugh in 1930, Pluto was initially considered the ninth planet of our Solar System.  It was part of an intense search that follows back all the way to the discovery of Uranus and the orbital calculations that led to the discovery of Neptune.  Even after Neptune’s discovery, gravitational perturbations pointed to a ninth planet,...

Star Closeup

I really enjoy looking at images of the Sun from one of the several round-the-clock monitoring systems.  It’s fascinating that the public can get access to almost real time images of the Sun and see what’s going on in several wavelengths.  I’ve always hoped to see what other stars look like in the future, and today, that future is one step closer.  Here’s a brand new picture of another star!   This is a real image of distant star π1Gruis, a star 350 times as massive as the Sun, in the southern hemisphere constellation Grus.  The star is 530 light years...

Navigation by Pulsar

On the golden record that accompanies the Voyager spacecraft, there is a map showing the location of Earth.  It’s not a road map that you might pull out when navigating a city, but a 3D map showing the location of a star, the Sun, in a populous galaxy.  But just how would this map work? And more importantly, what are the map markers? If you notice the lines at the bottom left of the golden record image, they all intersect at a common center point.  This is the Sun, and the lines extend out showing relative distances to the nearest...

Kepler Discovers 8-Planet System

Moments ago, NASA announced that the Kepler space telescope, for the first time ever, has discovered a star that has a system of 8 planets, similar to our own solar system. The exceptional part of the discovery is that it was found in existing Kepler data, using google artificial intelligence software that was trained to find positive detections in over 30,000 data sets.  Known as a neural network, the software was trained to look for patterns in the intensity of light from stars.  Normally, humans would need to do this work, but with so much data, there simply wasn’t enough...

The Ancient Collision That Everyone Saw

The year is 1987, and on February 23rd, three separate neutrino observatories experienced a huge burst in detections. Although initially unsure of their origin, the next day a Supernova was discovered in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a small satellite galaxy of the Milky Way visible in the southern hemisphere.  Known as 1987A, it was the closest supernova observed in centuries, and was observed by astronomers around the world as it brightened and then slowly dimmed.  By combining the visible observations with the neutrino data, scientists learned about how supernovae occur, constrained the mass of the neutrino, and opened a new...